Robert Ho (BASc NE 2014) makes the transition from high school to university to career look easy. Perhaps he is proof positive of the old adage to follow our interests and the details will take care of themselves.
Robert describes his decision to study nanotechnology engineering as an organic process that developed out of his enjoyment of math, science and building things. “It may sound superficial, but nano just sounded neat,” he says. “I wanted to do something engineering-based, and nano looked like it fit the bill. It seemed like an interesting choice.”
Attending the University of Waterloo was the next easy decision because, as Robert notes, “Waterloo has a great reputation for engineering – many graduates have managed to carve fantastic career paths full of fascinating work. And the co-op program provides ample opportunities to try on different hats.”
The process was complete when, in his fourth year of university, the company that hired him for his final co-op placement offered him a full-time job as a chemical process development engineer. This job continues to evolve, challenging him to use his broad base of engineering and science and motivating him to keep learning.
While his university education was a natural progression from high school, Robert was caught off guard by a humbling academic experience in his first year.
“In high school, I just sat in class and absorbed everything like a sponge,” Robert says, “but that experience didn’t carry forward into university. University was different: more courses, a heavier workload and more challenging subjects. I do not think I am alone when saying the academic transition was rocky because I didn’t know how to study.”
Robert had no choice but to adjust by putting more effort into his education. It was a bumpy road at the time, but he put his nose to the grindstone and figured out how to do it. “The good news though,” Robert says, “is that those skills easily got me through the rest of my degree, and they certainly continue to help me in my career.”
After that first hurdle of adapting to the high academic expectations, Robert’s experience in the program flowed smoothly. He attributes his enjoyment of the program to maintaining a solid balance between his intellectual and social life. “I enjoyed the broad range of topics and the content of the classes, but I didn’t aim for the upper echelon in terms of grades. There were a lot of amazing people in my class, and I didn’t feel the need to compete with them. I definitely did not spend all of my time productively, but in the end, I think I struck a good personal balance between scholastic and social experiences.”
Co-op Work Term Employment History
Co-op Career Launch
Robert had good experiences in the co-op program too. He found it “a little tough” to find his first co-op job, but he acknowledges that that experience was to be expected: “I was fresh out of high school, and I didn’t have any relevant experience. Once I was past that first term, I didn’t run into any problems finding co-op jobs, and I think ultimately things worked out well for me.”
Co-op gave him the variety he had been hoping to experience. He had jobs in a few different industries where he worked on several small projects that allowed him to use and synthesize the information he had been learning in class and the Quantum Nano Centre laboratories.
Robert was pleased to use his co-op job as a springboard to his career. Having experience at the company made his transition to full-time work smooth. Even though he worked in a different role, where he was more involved in the technical development side of the product, he continued to work with many of the same people.
In his role as a chemical process development engineer, Robert focuses on the continual development and optimization of the formulations and processes that are at the heart of a point-of-care blood analysis system. Although his projects primarily deal with electrochemical sensors and manufacturing, he is involved in the entire product workflow, from pursuing new developments to, periodically, lending a technical hand with customer support.
Even now, six years post-graduation, the broadness of the nano program helps with his job. “In industry, you build upon your educational foundation with specialized knowledge,” he explains. “I find the wide foundation given to me by the nano program to be incredibly useful. I’m involved in a large range of projects, and I find that I can contribute to virtually any technical conversation, whether it’s mechanical, electrical, or chemical in nature.”
Looking back at his time in university, Robert has the following advice for students in the Nanotechnology Engineering program:
- Make the most of all your experiences. Even in the most mundane or trying of times, I find that there’s almost always a silver lining to appreciate.
- Take every opportunity to strengthen your communications skills. They are vital to all aspects of life, both work and personal. Refuse the stereotype of the anti-social engineer. It is incredibly important to be able to productively convey our thoughts and to build rapport.
- Take risks. The Nanotechnology Engineering program is broad and the co-op program provides many opportunities. Every experience contains lessons and the possibility of growth. Step out of your comfort zone to explore and learn.